Saturday, April 28, 2012

Go, humble flock and reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before!

Go, humble flock and reach where 
the brave Shepherd has gone before!

The Good Shepherd window at the Old Cathedral in Vincennes, Indiana. Photo by John William McMullen.

 Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B) 2012         
Today’s first reading finds Saints Peter and John in big trouble for performing a good deed, indeed a miracle, in the Name of Jesus on a Sabbath.

Peter and John saw a beggar in need and in the Name above all Names, the Name of Jesus, they healed him and told him to “rise and walk”. How dare them do such a thing without consulting all the proper religious authorities – and to do such a thing on a Sabbath!

Human beings were created to observe the Sabbath, the authorities said to Jesus. But Jesus said the Sabbath was created for human beings! So Jesus knows what that rejection is like. He was forever in trouble with the religious leaders for healing on the Sabbath.

Peter and John are now in the same trouble as was Jesus the good shepherd.

What is so amazing is not so much the miracle as the hard-heartedness and narrow-mindedness of those who are angry that the crippled man can now walk!

Just like the original shepherd, the shepherds Peter and John, are in trouble for living the gospel message. The church is often criticized for its work with the poor and marginalized.

Some people often only regard the church as the pope and bishops. But we know that the church is far greater than simply the men in who called to be our shepherds.

Yes, the pope and bishops are to shepherd us, and have Jesus as the Good Shepherd as their model to follow, and we are obliged to hear their voice and follow their example.

The good shepherd is one who knows his sheep, protects them, defends them, cares for them, and is willing to lay down his life for them. This is the kind of shepherd the faithful recognize as a servant-leader.

Christ formed the Church as His Living Body on earth and the Soul of the Body of the Church is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit urges us on to love as Christ loves! Our faith is about authentic relationship with God and with one another.

Our faith in Christ is far more than following a list of rules and knowing what NOT to do. As one of my students said of a fellow teacher: “She is really good at telling me what I cannot to do, but why doesn’t she focus on what I can do? Or let me know when I am doing well?”

We all long for authentic Christian lives as examples to follow. But when we see some Christians more concerned with outward appearances than with the gospel, more concerned about rules than about love and mercy, more concerned with law than about justice, I can see why some people have become disillusioned with the Church or religion.

If a church community ceases to be the living presence of Jesus to a weary world, then it can become an obstacle to faith in Jesus.

So when we gather as church, as the body of Christ, the church as the visible presence of Jesus in the world.

And if we are living that reality, then the Church must be like her Lord, human and vulnerable as was Jesus the Good Shepherd when he humbled himself to share in our humanity. Jesus was rejected and cast away, crucified as a common criminal. In fact he laid down his life in death so that you and I might live!

Yet today we are called to allow ourselves to be shepherded by the Good Shepherd who was rejected.

But most people in Jesus’ day would say that there was no such thing as a good shepherd. They smelled bad, many were thieves, and would run off at the first sign of a wolf or predator, leaving their sheep vulnerable to attack. In other words, they were the outcasts of all outcasts in society. 

But recall that the angels first appeared to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, he who would be the Lamb of God, so it is an appropriate metaphor, and therefore we cannot so easily dismiss the shepherd image.

Jesus was cast off, but he insists: “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.”

Perhaps we think it beneath our dignity to be called sheep, yet Jesus himself humbled himself to share in our humanity and is called the Lamb of God. The last time I checked, a lamb is a sheep. And now he is the Good Shepherd. We are in good hands as His sheep.

We stand for human life. We stand for the underdog. We stand with the vulnerable. We stand for the powerless, the voiceless, the downtrodden, and, yes, we even stand with those who get themselves into terrible situations, for Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost!

There are no disposable stray sheep for the Good Shepherd and so it must be that way for the Church! If we are God's children, and we know that we shall be like him, then each of us must be prepared to shepherd souls into the pasture of God’s Kingdom.

There are no prodigal sons or daughters so far gone that we write them off as losses, there are no lost sheep that we can write off as losses for tax purposes! Christ died and rose for each and every member of the human family!

I know how easy it is to drive around town and see people who look so haggard, so ragged; their face is blemished and they are missing teeth and we say “there’s another meth-head” or “there’s trouble.”

But Christ the Good Shepherd would have us say, “There is one of my least ones. There is one of my children, created in my image and likeness! Ah, he may look like a lump of coal, but he is a diamond in the rough. It is for you to go find him, not judge him.  Go, humble flock and reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.

Or “There is one of my lost daughters of Eve. I know she looks like a slimy oyster, but within is a pearl of great price. Go seek the pearl, and do not judge. Go, humble flock and reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.

God our Father, we are the sheep of your pasture, the sheep you have redeemed by your Precious Blood of the Lamb, of God, the True Lamb who has taken away the sins of our world; The Lamb, once slain, who lives forever, your Son Jesus Christ, the True Shepherd of our souls!

Lead us, Lord – no, compel us, Lord – to take your message of mercy to where no one else wants to go; to go out in search of the sheep who think they have no shepherd, the sheep who have lost their way; to the sheep who are in places and situations where they can no longer hear the Shepherd’s voice, and let them know that there is a Good Shepherd who has laid down his life for them, a good shepherd who wishes for them to come home to His pasture where He can tend to them and nourish them.

Go, humble flock and reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before!


Lori Hogan's book STRENGTH FOR THE MOMENT (IMAGE Books, 2012) is a wonderful gift for those who minister to the aging, home-bound, and those in extended or hospice care, or anyone who will ever deal with aging parents or dying loved ones, or anyone who will ever deal with aging parents or anyone who will age or grow old and die.

Published by IMAGE Books, 2012

Lori Hogan’s collection of stories from people of different countries and cultures shows the common bonds that we all have with life, dying, and death. 

The author begins each set of reflections with an introduction based on her own thoughts and experiences, a scripture verse, a story from a caregiver, and closes with a prayer.
The fifty-two stories in this book are written by caregivers – spouses, daughters, sons, siblings, neighbors, strangers, and professional caregivers – and are based on their experiences dealing with those who are or were dying.

Among the stories that stand out for me are LuAnn Angelo’s account of her mother’s Alzheimer’s that caused her to descend into the state of a toddler and eventually an infant requiring diapers, where the daughter became her mother’s mother;

Steve Nooyen’s story of voluntarily caring for a stranger, Howie the Hoarder, and how Steve was challenged by Howie’s house, but gradually was able to see through the junk and encounter the real Howie who was a human person, capable of love and friendship;

Julie Hillmer’s struggle of moving her mother-in-law Marjory from one facility to another until finally she found the best home that met Marjory’s needs;

Jeanne Griffiths compassionate description of how she came to care for her mother, even to the point of bathing her, where a special intimacy is born out of that humbling experience of caring for someone in her most private and vulnerable moments;

Kay Shield’s heart-wrenching account of being blessed with Patrick, a special needs child, and her and her husband’s question of “why?” and “God, can I do this?” Particularly beautiful is how the two older brothers came to love Pat, even though he remains at the developmental stage of an infant. They helped dress, feed, and even change his diapers. 

One of the saddest parts of Kay’s story deals with a Mother’s Day Brunch for women with special needs children. Kay was relating to the women how her sons take responsibility to help parent Patrick, when one of the mothers said, “My children would never do anything to help their brother.” Many of the women nodded in agreement. Kay was shocked (as was I) but happy to realize what a blessing her sons are contributing to such a loving family that cares so much;

Marian Battersby’s story of how depression affects not only the person experiencing it, but also all of the caregivers to that person, and the courage and strength the Lord provides to all involved;

And finally Colette Hofelich’s point that even if one places a loved one in a facility, that it does not lessen one’s work load or responsibility to the loved one. On the contrary, one still remains a caregiver and requires visits and follow-up care, among the many other quotidian tasks.

Though I am a Permanent Deacon and chaplain, accustomed to visiting the sick, suffering, and dying, and my wife, Mary Grace, is a hospice and hospital chaplain, Hogan’s book convicted me to be truly present to those with whom I minister. 

It is said of Mother Teresa that when you were in her presence, you – and you alone – were the only person in the world to her. She was undistracted and was totally present to that person. 

This is a lost art today, especially with so many distractions: cell phones, texts, social networking sites, television, etcetera.

Hogan’s book and the collection of stories challenged me as son, cousin, nephew, father, Permanent Deacon, and teacher, to not only visit my own loved ones, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters, but to be truly present to others, and especially to seek reconciliation of those with whom we are estranged.

The fact that there are fifty-two stories makes this book a good bed-side reader for all of us – one story a week for one year.

Thank you, Lori, for such an insightful book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the above book for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Lord, I believe; help my unbelief"

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!


My nephew Thomas recommended a book at our family Easter celebration. His pastor Jeff Kinkaid has recommended it to his congregation. The book is called YOU LOST ME by David Kinnaman. It's all about the 18-29 age group that have jumped ship, the church, that is. Many are spiritual, believe in God, but don't see the need for community or church, others have been burned or grew up being told that one cannot and can never doubt anything or else "you’re out." Where is the love and mercy of Jesus?

This weekend we will hear of Thomas the Apostle who absented himself from church community that first Sunday after Jesus’ Resurrection. Can you imagine the joy when the disciples encountered the Risen Christ Jesus?! And perhaps the sadness that Thomas missed him! Where was Thomas? Doing his taxes?  We do not know.

Anyway, Thomas refuses to believe the other disciples when they inform him that Christ Jesus has been raised. He says he won’t believe it until he himself can experience the risen crucified one for himself.

The following Sunday as the disciples are gathered for weekly worship, Jesus again appears to the community and Thomas is present. Thomas is greeted by Jesus with "Peace". Jesus doesn't scold him for his unbelief. Christ is not afraid of human doubts. He extends peace. Again, it is an opportunity for an invitation to faith, and Thomas exclaims: “My Lord and my God.”

Jesus then says, "Peace be with you."  "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

Sound like we have some forgiving to do (Forgive as I have forgiven you) and then if we retain sins, then they are retained - and this affects us (just as much it does for those we do not forgive). And this being Mercy Sunday, let us pray we hearken to the Master's words: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Mt 5.7).

People are most often tortured for their lack of forgiveness or willingness to forgive others their sins… often these people refuse to forgive others… even though they themselves have been forgiven or have asked forgiveness for the same kind of sins. Some (many?) experience physical ailments when they will not forgive or who hold grudges.

How many times did our Blessed Lord forgive someone who was physically crippled, paralyzed, withered, bent over, and when they were forgiven (we would hope they also then forgave any grievances) and then they got well.

(Do not confuse these with the exorcisms where a demon caused the illness, although I am sure demons enjoy it when we hold grudges or refuse to forgive, but that is a different topic).

So I imagine the early Christian community described by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles is an enormous response to the Lord's Mercy! Look at how those Christians love one another!  Real or imagined, the Church (Christianity) has an enormous PR problem. Real or imagined, the church is viewed as hypocritical, judgmental, and irrelevant by many.

Many of the 18-29 yr olds feel - real or imagined - that the Church left them behind, one said, the way church is done was "damaging my relationship with God." Another wrote "The church was not a safe place to ask questions or hospitable places to express doubts. 

Granted, we are not going to change the truth of the Gospel nor can we, but the question for us to wrestle with is how are we going to present the eternal truths of Christ and the church to a digitalized culture.

Many want to do the faith and not be hearers only, many are spiritual and experience God, but feel disconnected to the institutional church and the "talking heads" (the authors words, not mine).  Disciples cannot be produced or made like consumer goods; they are hand-made, one at a time, one relationship at a time. NOTE that Jesus singled THOMAS out and called him to himself. It is a beautiful grace-filled scene. And Jesus didn't judge him. He simply called him to experience His wounds and to believe. Thomas exclaims “My Lord and My God.”

Faith formation is so needed. So many of our people are already halfway out the door, Christmas and Easter Christians only, and I can only imagine the kids who do not attend church regularly.

The Church cannot be an insular society that turns its back on the world and dwell in the "upper room". No, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” and “Go make disciples....” It is an awesome task and a great privilege! But we cannot wait.

Our culture demands seemingly "mindless conformity in exchange for belonging," (David Kinnaman, the author of YOU LOST ME), but Jesus calls for a kingdom centered community.

I'll end with Kinnaman's research: He says there are three categories of those lost: the NOMADS, they walk away from the Church, but still consider themselves to be Christian; then are the PRODIGALS who lose faith and no longer consider themselves Christian; lastly are the EXILES who are still invested in their faith, but feel stuck between the church and the culture.

So when Luke relates in the ACTS of the APOSTLES that: "The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them...." (Acts 4:32-35), now that is a Church we can believe in! But are we willing to BE CHURCH?

Oftentimes, those who doubt are the ones who truly want to believe. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!

In Mark 9:17-29, Jesus is approached by a man whose son was possessed by a demon: "Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so.” He said to them in reply, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.” They brought the boy to him. And when he saw him, the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions. As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around and foam at the mouth.
Then he questioned his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He replied, “Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”
Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering, rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!” Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out. He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.
When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting.”
Let us pray and fast that all those who feel lost and alienated and have wandered away from Christ's church community may find Christ's merciful presence once again in his disciples, as Jesus has called us to be His Body here on earth.
May the Church of Christ be as Christ the Good Shepherd and mercifully seek and fnd the lost sheep and restore them to the fold.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Exult, let them exalt! The Easter Vigil Begins

Exult! Christ is Risen. Indeed He is Risen.
As He Said. Alleluia, Alleluia.
The Resurrection Window at the Old Cathedral in Vincennes, from my photos.


Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lighting of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.

(Therefore, dearest friends,
standing in the awesome glory of this holy light,
invoke with me, I ask you, the mercy of God almighty,
that he who has been pleased to number me, though unworthy, among the Levites, may pour into me his light unshadowed,
that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises.)

(V/: The Lord be with you.
R/: And with your spirit.)
V/: Lift up your hearts.
R/: We lift them up to the Lord.
V/: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R/: It is right and just.

It is truly right and just,
with ardent love of mind and heart,
and with devoted service of our voice,
to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father,
and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.
Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father,
and pouring out his own dear Blood
wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.

These then are the feasts of Passover,
in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb,
whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.

This is the night, when once you led our forebears,
Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin.

This is the night that even now, throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, lending them to grace, and joining them to his holy ones.
This is the night when Christ broke the prison-bars of death,
and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed.

O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night, worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!

This is the night of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.
The sanctifying power of this night dispels all wickedness,
washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise, this gift from your most holy Church.

But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honour,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.
Therefore, O Lord, we pray you that this candle,
hallowed to the honour of your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night.
Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.

May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son,
who coming back from death’s domain
has shed his peaceful light on humanity
and lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen

Friday, April 6, 2012

Beloved by the Beloved

The Life of the Beloved Son of God has been spent in love of you and me.
The Crucifixion scene from the Old Cathedral in Vincennes, Indiana. from my photos.
It is Finished.

The Life of the Beloved Son of God has been spent in love of you and me.

God’ love is poured out in Jesus crucified.

In the crucifixion, Jesus’ life appears to be a horrible failure.

Hatred seems to have conquered love.

Yet on the Cross, Jesus crucifies all illusions of power:

He has crucified all of our false gods:




and popularity.

-Powerless, his hands and feet were nailed to the wood of the cross; he is humbled and incapacitated.

-Poor and stripped down to nothing, he hangs alone upon the gibbet of the cross under a burning sun; all illusions of wealth and prosperity are crucified.

-Illusions of pleasure and luxury are crushed in the bloody, splintered cross. Writhing in pain, gasping for air, he feels no pleasure at all; in agony and torment, He has crucified the god of pleasure.

-Jesus is rejected by the crowds; from the cross he looks for his followers, but he is abandoned by almost all of his is disciples.

Standing at the foot of the cross were only his mother, Mary Magdalene, and the Apostle John, the beloved disciple, the youngest of the Apostles.

Disowned, he has lost all honor and dies the death of a criminal; and crucifies the god of popularity and fame on the Cross.

Yet He is the Beloved:

And we are the Beloved of God.
We recognize ourselves in the Man on the Cross:

-We are beloved in our powerlessness;

-We are Beloved in our lack of possessions; (we are not what we have or possess).

-We are beloved in our suffering and pain; (we are not defined by a life of luxury and pleasure).

-We are beloved in our dishonor and abandonment; (we are not determined by our popularity or by what others say about us);

The search to find happiness in the false gods of:

possessions, power, pleasure, and popularity is over.

It is finished.

We place our trust in Him now, at the cross, giving ourselves over to him , dying with him, allowing his death to put to death all those things that prevent us from rising to new life, so that we can be a new creation....finished with the old way of seeing and doing things... finished because we have had an encounter with the Beloved Son of God.

We see the Beloved lifted high upon the cross, with his arms outstretched embracing all of our pain, all of our suffering.

And in him we see ourselves. 

We are His Beloved.

The Life of the Beloved Son of God has been spent in love of you and me.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Drama of the Paschal Mystery: The Source and Summit of the Holy Triduum

The Drama of the Paschal Mystery: The Source and Summit of the Holy Triduum

                         The Drama of the Paschal Mystery:
                The Source and Summit of the Holy Triduum

Imagine if we had the opportunity to share the bread and wine that Jesus shared with his apostles on the night before he died? A couple of years ago, an article in our local newspaper on Good Friday seemed to beg such a question. Accompanying the article was a photograph of an annual Last Supper pageant where actors dressed as apostles were seated around a table while one of the actors portrayed Christ. In the course of the rehearsals those in charge of the annual drama had a revolutionary idea to have the actor portraying Christ not only distribute the bread to the “apostles” but also the entire congregation. Imagine that? And by so doing, some believers may have actually thought they were encountering Christ in a uniquely special way, having the opportunity to receive the actual body and blood of Christ during worship.

Interestingly, throughout Christian America this Holy Week and Easter Season the media will report on many churches where innovative Biblical pageants are performed for various congregations. One might critique these staged quasi-worship productions and point out that the Paschal Mystery is not simply about the distant reality that Jesus suffered and died and rose long ago, but allow us to momentarily reflect upon them as such.

In one such drama called “the living last supper” the audience (as one reporter [erroneously or correctly] called the congregation) was allowed to come forward and receive “communion” from the actor portraying Jesus. In what was regarded as unusual, the audience participated through ritual movement and singing. One of those in attendance at this living last supper said, after witnessing the drama, that through the show they learned that Jesus had instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion at the Last Supper.

In light of this comment, one of the pastors said serving communion in such fashion is a great means of involving the audience in the drama, yet he was adamant in pointing out that he and his congregations certainly do not recognize Jesus himself in it [the communion bread]. Those involved admit it is an interesting experiment of sorts, especially for the one portraying Christ, and claim that the drama of it all “does what words cannot do.”

But isn’t this what liturgy is supposed to do? Isn’t that the understanding of sacrament? Through the sacramental liturgical ritual the past is made present and we actually encounter the risen Christ. In a word, the liturgy does what mere words cannot do.

On some Good Friday pageant services worshippers come forward and dedicate themselves to the Lord in front of the actor portraying Christ crucified on the cross. On Easter Sunday more churches stage productions to mark the holiday [holyday?] and afterwards parents bring their children up on stage to have their pictures taken with “Jesus.” Isn’t there something terribly shallow in all of this? Have we cheapened Jesus to breakfast with the Easter Bunny? And doesn’t this risk reducing worship to a mere stage production?

The evidence seems to show that those who are either deprived of the Liturgy and ritual or reject them altogether will eventually create their own. Unfortunately what has replaced liturgy is often a weak imitation of authentic worship. Granted, many of the actors take their roles seriously, and prepare by prayer and fasting in preparation for Holy Week, but then again, all Catholics, for millennia have been encouraged to fast and pray to mark the Lenten Season.

What I find fascinating about all these accounts is that what is being described comes close to traditional Catholic devotions such as the rosary and the Stations of the Cross and the liturgical celebrations long associated with Holy Week, Holy Triduum, and the Mass. In several of these pageants, Jesus’ mother Mary is being portrayed even if not all the scenes are explicitly Biblical. Yet many of these denominations decry personal Catholic devotions and the formal public worship of the Catholic Liturgy.

So how do these nice remembrances where we have to blow our nose and wipe our eyes apply to us now? Do they truly transform us or do we simply recall a past event and leave it at that? What is the practical application of such performances or productions in the world? Or do these productions – although unintended – merely entertain and draw us ever more in upon ourselves? Have we reduced worship to only a matter of what we are getting rather than to whom it is we are offering our sacrifice of praise and worship?

For Catholics, the heart of the entire liturgical year is the Holy Triduum whereby we plunge ourselves into the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, but the purpose of these events is to propel us forward in service to all. There must be a connection between the Christ event and our lives here and now; the Paschal Mystery is to be lived not simply viewed or observed. If we follow Christ, we too will experience passion, suffering, sorrow, and death itself. Experiencing the Paschal mystery allows us to live the questions of faith, rather than requiring faith to answer all the questions of life.

During the mass we share the story of salvation and gather around the altar and do once more what Christ did the night before he died. Together we do not simply piously recall the events of the past, but instead we participate in them, renew our covenant with God, stand in his presence and share in his Spirit and give thanks; hence the term “Eucharist.”

In the Second Vatican Council’s document Sacrosanctum concilium, the bishops declared, “At the Last Supper…our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood…in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us’”(SC 47). As Lumen Gentium of the same council reminds us: "The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Indeed, as the Catechism states, “by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all” (CCC 1326). Sacrosanctum concilium reiterated that of utmost importance in the celebration of the liturgy, “full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit” (SC 14).

It could well be argued that the faithful’s communal celebration through word and ritual brings about the sacramental reality. We believe that liturgy teaches us theology. In the words of the theologians, this is Lex orandi, lex credendi: the way we pray is the way we believe.

Sociologists who study ritual tell us that ritual reveals (makes present), orients (directs us toward the revealed reality), and unites (all are oriented toward the revealed reality together). It would seem that Catholic Liturgy does exactly that: it reveals God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, orients us toward Christ and his kingdom vision, and unites fellow believers into the Church for a common purpose, namely the furthering of the kingdom.

On the other hand, the Easter pageants in question appear to fall short of their purpose. Jesus did not say “act” like me in a “staged” way; rather he called upon us to be authentic disciples. “Do the will of my Father,” “If you love me, keep my commandments,” “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him,” “I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you,” “Remain in me, as I remain in you,” “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,” “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father,” “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven,” and “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother,” are some passages that immediately come to mind.

By participating in the Holy Week services of the Triduum, we do not attempt to go back in time for Christ makes himself present to us now! Our task is not to lose ourselves in first century Palestine, but rather immerse ourselves in our own broken world. How are we to wash one another’s feet today, how might we recognize the bruised, stripped and crucified body of Christ in my immigrant neighbor, a homeless stranger, Iraqi refugee or the forgotten peoples of Darfur?

On Holy Thursday we abide by the Lord’s command of “Take this and eat, this is my body, we obey His command of “love one another as I have loved you”, vow to wash the feet of our neighbors, and we keep watch with Him in his hour of agony; on Good Friday we see the Son of Man lifted up from the earth to draw all men and women to Himself and behold the heart which so loved the world, his pierced side pouring forth water and blood revealing the portal to the Church; and on the Easter Vigil we are warmed by the new fire, illuminated by the light of Christ, enlightened by the Word of the Father, regenerated in the baptismal waters, strengthened in the anointing of holy chrism, nourished in the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and sent forth on mission in the power of the Holy Spirit to restore all things in Christ, bringing order to the chaos of our world. This is no mere stage show; no, this is drama in its highest form.

So on Easter morning we don’t merely pose for a picture with a theatrically sweetened Jesus, but rather we partake in communion with Him, in Him, and through Him, and as such are drawn into the heart of God, called upon to serve others, united to his suffering, plunged into his death through the waters of baptism, and resurrected through the Word and Sacrament, efficaciously surrendering ourselves to a mystical communion with all believers and abandoning ourselves to Divine Providence.

Imagine the dramatic possibilities now.

That’s the kind of Easter I’m talking about.